Assembly Speaker, 19 November 2018 – Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras and Shadow Secretary of State for Brexit, opened his talk by saying that it was nice to come and talk to the Camden Sixth Form as a break from the negative conversations of Brexit.
He began by talking about the journey he has taken to get to where he is now. He talked about how, after the Second World War, UNICEF was set up to provide aid and set a precedent for human rights around the world. He talked about the three key ideas that underlined this movement that is equality, universalizability and dignity, all of which were taken away during the Second World War. This was a breakthrough for the world, it has driven him all his life and made him decide to become a human rights lawyer.
At the beginning of his career he went to Jamaica and Trinidad to defend those on death row. As both these places were colonies the outcome of the trail was determined by a court in London. He asked us to think about how we would handle working with someone on death row and defending them. He then went on to advise the police force in Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ on how to change the police force to become a police service, making it less daunting. They also wanted to make the police diverse in terms of having both Catholics and Protestants. Starmer helped them to make both of these changes.
Then in 2008 he became Director of Public Prosecutions where he worked for 5 years before becoming an MP. Here he judged on many cases but the one he talked to us about was assisted suicide. He talked about a case where a rugby player had become paralysed from the neck down after an accident. This boy, after several years of being paralysed, decided to go to Switzerland to go through assisted suicide and he asked his mother to go with him. Starmer had to judge whether the mother should be convicted for it but he decided against it on the grounds that the mother was acting out of compassion and was not gaining anything out of her son's death, she was only losing.
He then became an MP and in the last three and a half years has been part of parliament going through lots of different changes. He campaigned to stay in the EU and believes the vote went the wrong way. He told us that during the discussions about the Brexit deal he was taken back to the human civil rights decision after the war. He feels the ideas of equality, universalizability and dignity should be incorporated into the deal. He feels Theresa May’s deal which has been put forward is not good enough and that the government needs to rethink. He suggested that the current government should be swept away and there should be a general election.
Starmer then asked us to comment on everything he said and ask any questions about the topics he spoke about.
As always, there was a very broad range of questions form the sixth form students. The first question asked was about whether a no confidence vote on Brexit means no deal. He answered by saying that we have to accept the decision of Brexit from the country but that a no confidence vote should not equal no deal. He also mentioned that the worst thing is that those who’ll have to live with Brexit the longest did not get to vote and so therefore the voting age should have been lowered to 16.
He was then asked what the future of the Labour Party is under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. His response was that the Labour party is not about individuals but is a much broader a ‘church’ with strong, radical and slightly different views and this, Starmer believes, is great. He said that the party needs to stay radical and continuously campaign for change.
A third question was, ‘how do you decide what should be human rights and what should not?’ He said that you have to go back to those original principles that were made after the war. Human rights are all about those three ideas of equality, universality and dignity. However, he does not think enough is being done about social and economic rights.
The next question was about how he reconciles being a worker for human rights when sitting on the front bench with Jeremy Corbyn? He answered by clarifying that the Labour Party is a collective of 550,000 people and not a unit of 1 person. However, he did say that the anti-semitism within the party should be addressed.
Then a question was asked was about the rising problem of homelessness. He said it is a massive, tragic issue. It has got much worse over the last 10 years, and that in the past it was rare to be on the streets for more than a couple of days. Homelessness has become normalised. He suggested that the benefits system should be changed and more support and money be put into it.
One of the last questions asked was about what could be done to get more young people to vote? He answered by saying he thinks this demographic are politically engaged except maybe less so in party politics. He reiterated that the voting age should be lowered to 16.
He complimented the sixth form by saying that if there was to be an advert to get the voting age lowered to 16 we would be it due to the way we were engaging with and questioning him!
Mia - Senior Prefect